Friday, 22 March 2013

Cameron, Hollande follow money (PO)

By M D Nalapat

Friday, March 22, 2013 - The past few days have been spent in London, the former hub of the British Empire and now another major European Union city. Over the past decade,the “mainlandlization” of the UK has accelerated, so that an island that for more than a thousand yearsdistinguished itself from the rest of Europe has now abandoned this policy in favour of acceptingthe reality of Britain being simply a part of the European mosaic,behind Germany in importance and in the same league as France. Indeed, in the case of both Libya and now in Syria, David Cameron has scrambled to ensure that his policy goes in sync with that favoured by Paris.

Thus,London has joined Paris in pushing for the arming of those fighting the Assad regime in Damascus,no matter that this band is overwhelmingly composed of Wahabbi elements hostile to the West and only temporarily friendly to it. In the case of France,the motivation is - as usual - hard cash. In a faltering economy,French arms sales to Qatar,Saudi Arabia and the UAE are crucial to thesurvival of the defense industry in that country.

While India asks nothing in return from the huge purchases of weapon systems that it buys fromParis each year, given the Euro-centric policy favoured by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her chosen PM, Manmohan Singh, the GCC countries are far more solicitious of what they regard as their core interests. Ever since the Arab Spring, they have worked hard to ensure that the Shia go on the back foot. The primary motivation of Ankara,Doha and Riyadh for relentlessly giving weapons to the armed groups fighting the militarised conflict in Syria is to remove an Alawite leader,Bashar Assad,from power. To the Wahabbis - and Qatar and Saudi Arabia are openly Wahabbi states,while Turkey under Erdogan is now “Wahabbi Lite” - the Shia are apostates needing to be curbed. Hence,while they back the Sunni majority in Syria to come to full power in Damascus rather than sharing power with Shia (including Alawites), Druze and Christians,they oppose moves by the Shia majority in Bahrain to get some say in their own governance mechanism.

Although the GCC is often derided for being mere followers of the NATO bloc,the reality is that these days, Saudi Arabia,Qatar and the UAE are increasingly able to influence policy in the US and the EU. An example is Hillary Clinton,who as Secretary of State adhered closely to the wishes of the GCC,especially in Libya and Syria. Some critics say that this is because a huge chunk of the $16 billion in donations received by the William J Clinton-led foundations has come from donors based in the GCC,while another huge chunk has come from East Asia. As the Clinton foundations refuse to make public the list of those who have swelled its funds to such a huge degree,it is difficult to say whether the allegation that Hillary Clinton followed the policy set by major donors to her husband’s foundations is difficult to establish. Hopefully,some day full details will emerge of the donations made to Bill Clinton’s charities. A public figure sitting on $16 billion needs to ensure transparency in its sources,but so strong is the hold of the Clintons within the US policymaking establisment that such a demand has yet to be raised in any significant fashion.

Although France and the UK are desperate to ensure that the EU obey the desire of the GCC to remove the weapons embargo on both factions in Syria,by directly arming the groups fighting the Assad regime in that tortured country, as yet Germany is wary of going down such a dangerous road. The reality is that further militarization of the conflict will only ensure that the weapons supplied so abundantly will cross the borders of Syria should the Assad regime collapse, the way the weapons given to Libyan fighters against Kaddafy have. It is surreal to see the disconnect with reality of policymaking circles in the UK about developments in Syria,so closely are they following the GCC playbook or perhaps a better word, paybook. The “Economist” is the popular mgazine that best represents the views of policymakers in London,and this magazine has calculated that only “25%” of those fighting Assad are extremist. Did the Editor fly down to Syria and count the number of extremists within the widely disparate groups fighting militarily against Assad? How does he define “extremists”? The figure is nonsense,as is the assertion by the same magazine that cities in Libya are governed by “elected committees”, composed no doubt of those who frequent the pubs and restaurants of London.

The 2008 financial collapse has shown the danger involved in trusting NATO-based financial institutions with cash. The GCC,together with Russian billionaires and those sending cash outside from China, forms a key component of the cash reserves of financial institutions in London,New York and other NATO-bloc cities. These days,options that are much safer have opened out to international investors,such as assets in Brazil,India and China or parking funds in locations other than the NATO bloc. Clearly,both David Cameron and Francois Hollande need to run the extra mile to ensure that the GCC continue to park almost all its funds within the NATO bloc,or rely on NATO-based advisors for their financial transactions. Hence the urgency behind the pressure by London and Paris to follow the GCC’s line on Syria,exactly the way they did in the case of Libya. That such a line would ultimately rebound on their own countries the way Bill Clinton’s assistance to the Taliban in the 1990s bit back at the US in the 9/11 episode has gone unheeded.

Now that the EU is even penalizing bank depositors in Cyprus and later certainly in other countries,it is vital for the NATO bloc that the GCC continue to trust their money with it,no matter how bitter their experience in the past. This need for GCC funds to remain within NATO-based financial enterprises explains UK PM David Cameron joining hands with President Hollande of France in pushing the EU to adopt the policies favoured by Doha,Abu Dhabi and Riyadh in Syria.

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